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Remember when digital media used to come on CDs? These days, everything is obtained through downloads instead. And if you ask me, that’s the better way to go because optical drives are pretty much obsolete now.

With CDs and DVDs, if the disc breaks, you’re out of luck — it’s gone forever unless you happened to make backups beforehand. Disc backups are annoying to make and even more annoying to keep stored. Meanwhile, digital files are a lot easier to manage and data drives for backups are very affordable now 7 Things to Know When Buying a Data Drive for Backups 7 Things to Know When Buying a Data Drive for Backups Thinking about buying a data drive for storing file backups? Here's what you need to know if you want to make an informed decision. Read More .

All of this is to say: If you have CDs and DVDs lying around, you may want to “digitize” them by copying them onto a data drive. And yes, it’s totally possible for your computer to read and run those digital copies without needing to first burn them back onto physical discs!

Understanding Disc Images & Virtual Drives

There’s a right way and a wrong way to digitize CDs and DVDs.

The wrong way, which is what most people do, is to simply copy and paste the contents of a disc onto your computer. This might work if the disc contains nothing but data files. But it will backfire if the disc is meant to be runnable, e.g. video games, operating system installers, etc.

The Disc Image

The right way to digitize CDs and DVDs is to create a disc image. This is a single file that replicates every bit of data that exists across all sectors of a given CD or DVD — even the empty bits. Rather than just copying the individual files, a disc image records the complete state of a disc when the image was made.

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Image Credit: spafra via Shutterstock
Image Credit: spafra via Shutterstock

Disc images are a lot easier to deal with because you can mount them onto virtual drives, thus avoiding the need to have a physical optical drive attached to your computer.

The Virtual Drive

A virtual drive is a piece of software that can load and run disc images. If the disc image is the digital equivalent to a physical disc, then the virtual drive is the digital equivalent to a physical drive. You can think of “mounting a disc image on a virtual drive” as “inserting the digital disc into the digital drive”.

For me, the biggest reason to use disc images and virtual drives is performance. Not only are hard drives and solid state drives faster than optical drives, you also bypass the need to wait for the optical drive to spin up (whereas your data drives are always ready). This means faster access and read/write speeds.

Other benefits of this include improved library organization, being able to switch disc images with a single click instead of fumbling with physical discs, and being able to set up dozens of separate virtual drives at once if desired.

How to Create Disc Images

If you need a copy of a video game or an operating system, you might be able to legally torrent their disc images off the internet for free. For example, most Linux distros offer free disc images.

daemon-tools-lite-grab-disc

But if you already have a physical disc and you just want to back it up, then you’ll want to download and install DAEMON Tools Lite. (This app is free with ads, which you can remove with a one-time $6 payment.)

Once you installed DAEMON Tools Lite:

  1. Insert the CD or DVD into the optical drive.
  2. Launch DAEMON Tools Lite.
  3. In the left sidebar, select New Image.
  4. From the options, select Grab a Disc.
  5. Under Device, select the drive that corresponds to your optical drive. If you aren’t sure which one it is, use File Explorer to double-check which drive your disc is in.
  6. Under Format, select ISO as it’s the most widely supported format right now. However, if you’re trying to image an audio CD with multiple tracks, you’ll want MDS instead.
  7. Under Save As, click the button and choose where you want the resulting disc image to be saved.
  8. Click Start. Wait for it to finish. Done!

It’s really as simple as that. Now you can move the disc image wherever you want, such as an external hard drive for safe keeping. When you need to run the image, you’ll want to mount it onto a virtual drive, as explained below.

Note that if you want to recreate a physical disc from the image, you’ll need to use an app like DAEMON Tools Lite to burn it on, rather than simply copy/pasting it onto the disc as a file.

How to Mount Disc Images

Many free apps can virtually mount disc images for you, including my personal favorite WinCDEmu No DVD Drive? No Problem! Create And Mount ISO Files For Free With These Tools No DVD Drive? No Problem! Create And Mount ISO Files For Free With These Tools My computer doesn’t have any optical drives anymore. That means CD drives, DVD drives, Floppy drives--they’ve all been cut out and done away with forever. If a particular piece of peripheral gear doesn’t have a... Read More . But since we used DAEMON Tools Lite to create disc images, we’ll stick with it for mounting as well. That way you only need to install one thing.

Once you installed DAEMON Tools Lite, the app will automatically create the first virtual drive for you. If you only intend to mount one disc image at a time, this one drive will probably be all you need and you won’t need to create any others.

To mount a disc image, right-click on the DAEMON Tools icon in the system tray, select Virtual Devices, select the drive you want, select Mount, then navigate to the image file to mount.

daemon-tools-lite-add-drive

If you want to create additional virtual drives, here are the steps to take:

  1. Launch DAEMON Tools Lite.
  2. In the left sidebar, select Images.
  3. From the options, select Add drive.
  4. Under Virtual Drive, pick either DT, SCSI, or IDE. Most of the time, it won’t matter which. SCSI used to be the default, but some DRM-protected media What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More will check to see if the drive is IDE, in which case you’ll want to use IDE. (IDE drive support is a paid feature in DAEMON Tools.)
  5. Keep DVD Region as 1.
  6. Under Mount to Drive, select any of the available letters.
  7. Click Add drive. Wait for it to finish. Done!

Are You Backing Up Your Data?

Some people use disc image creation as a way to spur online piracy and encourage copyright infringement, but most users simply use it for legitimate backups and copies. It must be said that we only condone the latter.

And if you aren’t making backups already, we encourage you to start right now. It’s a lot easier than you think, and you never know when it will come in handy. Think of it like insurance: you won’t lose everything in case of disaster 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More .

What kind of discs are you backing up? If you use an app other than DAEMON Tools, share it with us below and let us know why you prefer it!

Originally written by Jeffry Thurana on March 16, 2011.

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